A man in Israel is drawing a mix of praise and backlash for creating a successful and potentially life-saving product while serving a prison sentence for murder.
Harel Hershtik, 46, is set to take a health-tech startup valued at hundreds of millions of dollars public, according to The Associated Press. However, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the idea behind this potentially life-saving technology is the man behind one of the nation’s most infamous murders.
“When I was young, I would say I was stupid and arrogant,” Hershtik said in an exclusive interview with the AP. “You can be a genius and yet be very stupid, and the two don’t contradict each other.”
Hershtik was released in 2021 although he was sentenced to life in prison for a gruesome murder in 1996, after the parole board considered him to be a person of “particularly high intelligence” who would not posed no threat to society. In 2018, while imprisoned, Hershtik founded Scentech Medical, the company behind a product to detect a number of diseases by simply testing the patient’s breath.
The tech genius also claims to have sold six of the 31 companies he started behind bars, where he also earned two doctorates in math and chemistry.
In 1996, Hershtik, then 20, plotted to kill a charismatic snake trapper named Yaakov Sela, who had become Hershtik’s herpetology mentor at age 14 and was a former boyfriend of Hershtik’s mother. Sela was portrayed as a womanizer who Hershtik stole the equivalent of $15,000 from. Instead of involving the police, Sela demanded that Hershtik return the money with 100% interest, according to The Times of Israel.
Hershtik and an accomplice, however, drove Sela to several banks to raise the funds needed to pay off her debt, according to The Associated Press. Hershtik then stopped the car, claiming he was going to be sick.
It was then that the accomplice shot the victim three times with a gun belonging to Hershtik’s mother before handing the gun to Hershtik, who fatally shot Sela in the head at close range. The couple stuffed Sela’s body into the trunk of the car before burying her in a grove in the Golan Heights region of northeast Israel.
Sela was found weeks later after hikers found the victim’s hand sticking out of the ground.
Hershtik was convicted following the confession of the accomplice. His mother was also convicted in connection with the case.
As part of his parole, Hershtik is required to wear an ankle monitor and is placed under house arrest every night, according to The Associated Press.
He hopes uncovering the science behind a product that can detect illnesses such as COVID-19, cancer and depression will be a way to redeem himself from the sins of his past.
“The remorse I felt for what I did would become a beacon for my path forward,” Hershtik said. “This company was created because I wanted to do something better, leave a better world.”
Hershtik serves as vice president of Scentech Medical, which is awaiting approval to merge with NextGen Biomed. The latter is listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and would take Hershtik’s company public, valuing his company at $250 million.
While the Israeli government has no laws preventing detainees from carrying out such activities, some members of the public say that the $25 million the Hershtik company has earned so far from private investors – not to mention the money he earned from other companies – should be spent in part on some sort of restitution to the relatives of the man he killed.
Tovia Bat-Leah, the mother of Yaakov Sela’s child, says Hershtik should provide funding for her daughter’s education or a reptile museum in Sela’s honor, according to The Associated Press.
“He’s served his time, but he should do some kind of repair,” Bat-Leah said. “Anyway, I don’t know.”
Bat-Leah found Sela’s death particularly traumatic, despite the fact that the two had broken up because her brother had been the victim of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in 1991, according to the AP.
Hershtik says he will soon seek FDA approval for his non-invasive product, which is already making waves across the country. It is backed by high-profile investors, including Yaakov Amidror, who was once the former head of Israel’s National Security Council. Shmuel Shapira, the former director of the Israel Institute for Biological Research, is the company’s chief technology officer, and Zeev Rotstein, the former director of one of Israel’s largest hospitals, leads the board company scientist.
One of Hershtik’s investors, Drew Morris, admitted to The Associated Press that he was “frightened” by the tech genius’ murder conviction, but soon realized Hershtik was aiming to “do something.” something good for the world.”
Herhstik told the AP that he could have created a number of businesses that would not have benefited society, adding that it was not about the money.
It remains to be seen what impact Herstik’s past will have as the company moves towards bringing the invention to market.
According to Drew Morris, Hershtik agreed to give up his position at the company if his murder conviction became an issue.